Review by WithTheDawn
"Everything You Hoped It Would Be"
Lets get things straight - I have always been a massive fan of the Mario Kart series. At the same time, the only other hand-held Mario Kart game, Super Circuit for the GBA really annoyed me. When I heard that another Mario Kart game was being made for the DS, I was immediately concerned both that it would work far more efficiently than the GBA version, and that the features of the DS would not be gimmicks but would actually aid to the gameplay.
Far from being disappointed, I have been amazed at just how well the game performs on the system. Already it has become natural to look at the map on the bottom screen during races in a way that makes you wonder how you ever managed to play the game without it, and the game controls as well as ever with the D-pad. Mario Kart DS bears a sticking resemblance to Mario Kart 64, yet at the same time does everything somehow better.
Gameplay - 10
Mario Kart DS maintains all of the features that have made the series great previously. You begin with a selection of 8 classic racers: Mario, Luigi, Peach, Yoshi, Toad, Donkey Kong, Wario and Bowser, all of which generally have either speed or acceleration and handling as main attributes. Each racer will begin with a selection of two karts, and this will increase greatly as you unlock certain features, as will the original cast of 8 characters.
A new and interesting feature is the particular karts "item" rating, which simply improves the chances of getting good items if it is high. Having a low item rating and being in first usually means you will only get banana peels, having a high rating will often enough give you triple green shells even if you are leading the pack. Once you get used to the handling of your favourite character, all racers will eventually have a kart with a max item ratio, and are often the best one to go for.
Single player mode is divided into five areas: Grand Prix, Time Trials, VS, Battle and the all-new Missions mode. In Grand Prix you can initially play at either 50cc, 100cc or 150cc speed, and in each there is a selection of 32 races divided into 8 cups, 4 of which are all-new and generally feature environments from previous Mario games, the other 4 of which are consisted of classics from all previous Mario Kart games. All of which, including the Gamecube ports, surprisingly, play very smoothly and much like their original versions. After choosing a cup, you will play 4 races and gain points according to position. If you have the most points at the end of the race you win :D. You will also get a ranking that seems to be based on the times of each of your races, ranging from E to triple stars. Even in 50cc, it takes some effort to get triple stars, and in 150cc it will probably takes weeks of playing to gain the rank.
Time Trials simply allow you to race on a track without other racers or obstructions in the way. This mode relies on your ability to powerslide, which, once you get the hang of it, is easier than ever. Achieving fast enough times will allow you to unlock staff ghosts which, to put it bluntly, will totally wipe the floor with you. You will have to perfect three laps just to keep up with them, and beating all the staff ghosts is a major feature of this games lasting appeal. In addition to this, you can also transfer over friend's ghosts and play against them until you beat them. When up against any ghost, the bottom screen helpfully shows their path, and if they are sliding or power boosting.
VS mode allows you to take on seven racers in any tracks that you have unlocked. You can change both the speed and the computers difficulty, and can even break everyone into two teams of four and go through races acting as a team. I imagine this would be quite fun with 7 friends around, but still has some value even by yourself.
Battle Mode in back and better than ever. There are two games in battle mode; Balloon Battle and Shine Runners. The former is similar to the N64 and GC battle modes in that you hit your opponents with items and cause them to loose their balloons. However, this version now has a nice little twist to it that both adds strategy and uses the DS's features very well. You start with only one balloon and a stock of four and need to either blow into your microphone or hold select to inflate up to three at any one time. The former is quicker, but somewhat less dignified if you happen to be on a train like I was :D.
Shine Runners is similar to the Double Dash's Shine Thief. In this version you race around collecting stars off the ground, and shooting opponents to make them drop their stars. A clock continually counts down, cutting off the people with the least stars each time until there is a winner. Battle Mode can now be done against bots (finally!), which have difficulty ratings of easy, normal and hard, the later being quite a serious challenge. There are six courses for this mayhem, four all-new ones and two old ones: Block Fort (N64) and Pipe Plaza (GC). Block Fort has always been my favourite battle course from any Mario Kart games, and it is great to see it in here, particularly when you can play against up to seven other bots or people. Long after you tire of Grand Prix, Battle Mode will still beckon you.
The Missions mode is an all-new feature that consists of six levels, each having 8 sub-levels and a boss. The sub-levels get you to perform tasks such as driving through tires, collecting coins, or doing a certain number of powerslides in a lap, and once again rate you from E to triple stars depending on how quickly you manage it. Getting triple stars in all missions, particularly the later ones will be an extreme challenge, and will keep you playing the game for a long, long time.
Graphics - 9.5
Another very impressive feature of this game is the graphics, which in many ways look superior to the N64 version. The racers themselves don't look quite as good, but that hardly matters anyway. The tracks are all very well laid out and presented, and aid the whole feel of the game very well with a constant 60 frames per second that runs very smoothly. Even the ports of Gamecube tracks don't look much worse at all than their original versions. The graphics, while not quite perfect, do nothing at all to hinder, and quite a lot to support, the gameplay of this game.
Sound - 9.5
The tracks are filled with catchy little tunes that loop over and the exclamations of characters are you pass them or they pass you. The tunes are good enough not to get annoying, but are generally nothing really special. Still, the sound matters little really. If you don't like it, just mute it and put some better music on, it will play just as well.
Controls - 10
I really had concerns over how this game would handle on a portable. But this is one of the easiest games to control that I have ever played. Even the advanced technique of power sliding takes very little time to master, and steering the kart around obstacles is as easy as you would like. My little sister played the game earlier and won the race...sure, it was 50cc, but this is my little sister. Anyone should be able to pick up this game and pretty much have it worked out by the end of the first race.
Lastibilty - 10
Not only are there so many modes to play, there are ratings that will take you ages to perfect. The game by it self will be one that you still play with some regularity years from now. As with all Mario Kart games, the lastibility comes with the multi-player. If you happen to have 7 friends with DS's, then you can get them over and play any feature of the game against them, even if they don't have the game themselves. And then of course there is the wi-fi connection whereby you can take on someone on the other side of the world. While some people have complained that this is a somewhat limited feature, it should really be seen as something extra on top of what is already terrific.
Rent or Buy?
Buy this game. If you do not have a DS, then buy a DS for this game. Get your friends to buy a DS to get this game. If you are a fan of games...hell, if you are a fan of having fun, then you need to buy this game. This is easily the best DS game out so far, and I would not be surprised if it is still considered that long after DS games stop being made.
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 11/16/05
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